ON Thursday night, the Elections Bill completed its stages in the House of Lords. Most public debate has focused on the need for voters to have ID when they come to vote – a passport, photographic driving licence or the like – which is an important obstacle to voting for anyone who, for whatever reason, lacks all of the required means of identification. This, it is claimed, was justified by allegations about “voter fraud”, yet at the 2019 General Election there were only 595 cases of alleged fraud out of 32 million votes. Of these allegations, four led to convictions and two to police cautions.

Most seriously though, this bill will give the UK Government control of the Electoral Commission, which regulates party and election finance and sets standards for how elections should be run, and to date, has done so independently of government. No longer. The nominated minister – currently Michael Gove – is empowered to set the entire remit of the commission.

The former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge has said: "What is chilling about the present proposal is that there is no room for the Electoral Commission to say 'We don't agree with that’. That has a huge political advantage for the government in power”.

The commission itself made clear its concern some time ago, saying the bill’s proposed powers were “inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy”, as government could influence its decision-making, through a "strategy and policy statement" providing “guidance” to the commission. This, the commission has warned, would “require the commission to help the government meet its policies relating to elections and referendums”.

Remember the debates about the appropriate question for the 2016 EU referendum, or the 2014 referendum about Scottish independence? Well from now on, it would, in effect, be the government minister – Michael Gove – determining policy. What kind of neutrality is that?

As Kyle Taylor, of Fair Vote UK has argued, “it’s a dark day for democracy.”

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.


NICOLA Sturgeon claims that the SNP will "bring our local communities together". It is utterly hypocritical for the most divisive First Minister Scotland has ever had the misfortune to suffer to make such a ludicrous claim when her party does nothing but endlessly sow division, grievance, bitterness and blame – without ever accepting accountability or responsibility. This appeared to reach a peak this week when Angus Robertson appeared to suggest that the latest SNP failure – the delayed 2021 census fiasco – was caused by the Ukraine war, and not due to thousands being disengaged by it being (at a cost of millions) postponed totally unnecessarily from the correct date that the rest of the UK somehow managed to adhere to, and by it having to follow the nationalists' endless obsession with gender issues.

The entire nationalist council campaign seems focused on Boris Johnson and international matters irrelevant to local issues – anything to distract from the SNP's reduction in council funding drastically affecting local services; a Glasgow SNP leader blatantly contravening campaign rules ("Glasgow SNP leader apologises for ‘brazen breach’ of council election rules", The Herald, April 27); paperwork being conveniently "lost" to hinder any accountability over ferries; reducing education standards; a collapsing road network; and a Scottish NHS failing to attain its targets and suffering weekly from increasing A&E delays and worsening staffing recruitment.

Ms Sturgeon once stated “independence transcends everything” – anyone without her blinkered agenda of division can clearly see the costs of this folly.

Steph Johnson, Glasgow.

* ANGUS Robertson has blamed "recent world events" for more than a quarter of Scottish households not returning their census forms. Yes, that’ll be it. Did anyone else have a Russian Spetsnaz trooper rappel into their home, scream "nyet, nyet" when you go to type the first few letters of census.gov.scot into Google before swan-diving through a window, or was that just me?

David Bone, Girvan.


The deadline for Scotlands Census has had to be extended

The deadline for Scotland's Census has had to be extended



HARALD Tobermann (Letters, April 28) makes excellent points regarding the impact of the delay of the census, and the apparently low level of response in certain parts of Scotland. A more fundamental question however, to which Mr Tobermann alludes, is what exactly is the purpose of the census? I have always presumed it was twofold: to record a "snapshot" of society for future generations, and to assist the government of the day in planning effective provision of public services.

It was extremely challenging to discern any information that will be gleaned from this year's census that will prove useful in terms of improving public services (not least transport) in Scotland. There were, however, multiple questions relating to issues of identity politics and division; I do not recall previously being invited to record my feelings, or my sense of self-perception.

Mr Tobermann also makes important points about the lack of enumerators, and the move to a default position of online response. As a society we seem continually to fret about both the security and psychological impacts of moving our lives online, whilst making real-world, physical alternatives increasingly harder to access.

As citizens we are legally obliged to respond to the census accurately and in good faith. Is transparency from the framers of the questions too much to expect in return?

Nick Ruane, Edinburgh.


WHILST mainly in agreement with SNP candidate David Tam McDonald (Letters, April 29) I would query one point raised, namely that "the electorate have some time left to get to know the candidates standing in their ward". I think not. In the adjacent Giffnock/Thornliebank Ward only the Labour candidate and one of the two Independents (my son) have been actively calling on residents.

I would not suggest any of the seven candidates are a dull bunch but certainly four of them have been almost anonymous over the past six weeks. I consider such complacency is disrespectful to an electorate.

Allan C Steele, Giffnock.


IN the context of your National Debate articles about the NHS this week, the English High Court ruling ("Scots families of Covid victims in legal threat after court ruling", The Herald, April 28), about the controversial transfer of so-called "bed blockers" into care homes at the start of the pandemic, gets us into some very deep and muddy waters. Just how far do we want to go in having the courts question medical decisions? Medical situations require quick decisions to be made in emergencies, based on very uncertain information. Law courts allow themselves unlimited time and a lot of hindsight to judge decisions made, of necessity, in a very different situation.

If we are not careful, we shall end up importing into the NHS the incredibly wasteful and expensive practice of "defensive medicine" as routinely used in the United States. Nothing can be done without endless tests and scans and biopsies, mainly in order to avoid law suits. Doctors have to pay staggering insurance premiums, which in turn get picked up by patients or taxpayers. The American system is notorious for doubling or trebling medical costs in order that a few people with expensive lawyers can get compensation. Alas, the Covid virus is no respecter of law courts; it cannot be sued, so people look elsewhere for somebody to sue

We need to understand in depth the situation created by the pandemic. No-one knew at the start if hospitals would be completely overrun with dead and dying, with virus particles floating everywhere. Suppose the bed blockers had not been moved, they would very likely have caught the virus anyway from other patients. There is an unstated assumption that people, even with compromised immune systems, can be moved to somewhere safe, and kept safe, with a legal right to this protection. But this cannot be so when the whole of society, including nurses, cleaners and care-workers, can carry the virus, and may even move regularly between care homes as part-time workers.

At the start we had no idea of just how many days these workers might be symptom-free but infectious. So how do we know that most of the virus spread in care homes came from the bed blockers who were moved? Without understanding this, the High Court ruling looks premature and worse still, invites a flood of claims.

Peter Gray, Aberdeen.


IT was interesting to learn of the potential massive increase in bonuses for directors of the NatWest group bank approved at their AGM on 28 April 2022 ("Shareholders give go-ahead for bigger banking executive bonuses at Natwest", The Herald, April 29).

However, an issue of greater importance to people in Scotland and the rest of the world has not been addressed. NatWest Group, Scotland’s largest bank, is still financing the companies that build nuclear weapons. Customers of RBS and other NatWest subsidiaries are asking their local branches for help to change this outdated practice and get NatWest to be a bank that doesn’t contribute to global catastrophic risk like nuclear weapons.

The problem is that NatWest has a controversial weapons policy which only partially restricts investment in companies doing nuclear weapons work, while it unconditionally prohibits any investments in companies producing landmines or cluster munitions. Why would the worst weapon ever created be treated differently?

Part of the reason is that the UK still clings to an outdated, unproved and dangerous theory of nuclear deterrence. This extremely expensive theory has allowed Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine and commit war crimes with impunity. Now the risk of nuclear war is the highest it's been since the Cold War and our very existence is under threat.

NatWest needs to stop funding companies profiting from this global catastrophe waiting to happen. It can do this by taking three decisive steps. First, the bank should announce its decision to eliminate all financial support to companies involved in nuclear weapons work. Second, existing loans should be terminated or, if necessary, allowed to run their course, and third, NatWest should publish an updated policy that treats nuclear weapons as what they are – inhumane and prohibited under international law.

Michael Orgel, Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland, Edinburgh.


HAVING hit the scene in the mid-1930s, still got a pulse and talking back, I am encouraged by the prospect of still running around Scotland for another decade and more with just a few minor lifestyle changes as offered by the Director of Brain Health Scotland ("Dementia will be a rare condition within 20 years, a leading Scots expert believes", The Herald, April 28 ).

If Professor Ritchie would oblige with a letter to that effect for my some-years-younger dear wife, I will go forth, not to multiply, but to source a new set of golf clubs.

R Russell Smith, Largs.